Shouldering Responsibility


Sakumo and Jiraiya were about the same age. The relevance had been clear to Sandaime, even if it hadn't been readily apparent to others. As Jiraiya's teacher, Sandaime knew something that not many Konoha villagers did, including some shinobi: Jiraiya was Sakumo's brother. Jiraiya was from the Hatake clan. By the time Jiraiya was twenty-four and Kakashi was born, Jiraiya was already known by first name alone, but the fact remained. When Sakumo committed suicide, leaving his eight year old son in the hands of the village, Sandaime knew where to turn.

"Are you sure he's not better off with Minato?" Tsunade asked.

Sandaime smoked his pipe blandly. "I'm sure."

"I don't know…Jiraiya's kind of…" Tsunade searched for the right word. "Irresponsible."

"You mean it would be like one eight year old raising another?" Orochimaru said acerbically. He leaned against Sandaime's desk with folded arms.

"Now, the both of you…Jiraiya is your teammate."

"That's why we know what a colossal airhead he is," Tsunade said. "He can't do it. He hasn't married, let alone raised children."

"He's been a teacher for many years," Sandaime pointed out. "A leader of his own teams."

"None of which prepares one for taking a child home," Tsunade said.

"Hatake Kakashi is not an ordinary child," Sandaime said.

"I know." Tsunade raked a hand through her thick blonde hair. "That's why I'm afraid it's worse. Jiraiya would have an angry, depressed, suicidal, chuunin level shinobi on his hands – who happens to be eight years old."

Sandaime just gave his students a gentle smile. "Jiraiya will handle it."

Orochimaru turned away. "Tch."

They both got the hint and filed out of Sandaime's office.

Sandaime scratched his chin, curious at their reactions. They don't think Jiraiya can do it. Hmm. Interesting. He sighed. But sad. So frequently, one's own teammates are the worst judge of one's character.

He summoned Jiraiya into his office.

Jiraiya bounced in with a trademark wave. "Hi, Pop!" He grinned.

"I have heard," Sandaime said gently.

The cheerful mask fell from Jiraiya's face. "Oh."

"As have Tsunade and Orochimaru. Please accept their condolences."

Jiraiya looked at the floor, scuffing his sandal on it softly. "Right." He looked like a chastised child. Without prompting, he said, "It's pretty bad, alright."

"Where is Hatake Kakashi?" Sandaime asked gently.

"What?" Jiraiya pulled himself together. "The hospital."

"Ah…"

Jiraiya glanced at his teacher. "In shock. I put him in there to keep him from doing anything foolish. You know how these Hatake are…" He gave Sandaime a slight smile. "Emotional and all when it comes to their parents."

Sandaime regarded Jiraiya with sympathy. From an early age, Jiraiya had come to live with him, after Jiraiya's parents had been killed on a mission. Jiraiya had been close in Kakashi's age – six years old. The same year Jiraiya graduated from the academy, as a matter of fact. The household shift had caused tensions between his birth son and Jiraiya, and his birth son and himself. Asuma had never quite forgiven him for taking in the orphan; though that was a matter Sandaime refused to back down from, since their house had plenty of room, and the only other adult male in the Hatake clan left was a frail old man who was almost blind – Sakumo's great uncle. Sakumo, as a matter of fact, had gone to live with that uncle at the time Jiraiya became orphaned. Sandaime had offered his house, but Sakumo had politely refused, preferring to live with the great uncle he was closer to emotionally. This did not mean he did not come visit Jiraiya every day, which he had.

"So you will take him in?" Sandaime asked gently.

Jiraiya took a moment to catch up again. "Huh? The kid? Kakashi-kun? Why should I? He doesn't want me." He frowned at the floor. "Especially since I committed him to the psych ward. You should've heard some of the words he was using on me. They sure learn 'em fast, don't they?"

Sandaime sighed and smoked his pipe for a moment, thinking. Jiraiya was not good with rejection. The altercation at this early stage meant complications. "You must love him."

Jiraiya nodded earnestly, raising his head. "I do." He looked at Sandaime with wide eyes. "I do. He's my little nephew. How am I supposed to feel? I can't help but love him. He needs me. But I…I don't think he wants me, Saru-sensei."

Jiraiya was anxious. Only when he was deeply anxious did the title 'Saru-sensei' come out. Sandaime rose from his chair, walked out from behind his desk, and folded Jiraiya in a hug.

For a moment, Jiraiya flinched, stunned. Then he froze. Sandaime could feel his heart beating, felt the tingle of Jiraiya's churning chakra. Sarutobi brought forth a warming, soothing cloud of chakra and enveloped them.

Jiraiya relaxed against him and hugged him back, clinging. "Papa…" His choice to call Sarutobi that had driven Asuma crazy. He only called his sensei that when there was no chance of Asuma overhearing. He didn't need a fight on his hands. There had been plenty fistfights enough over the fact that he lived with the famous Sarutobi family.

One of them Asuma started over the idea that Jiraiya might ever become Hokage. So now Jiraiya never would be, precisely for that reason. A black eye and two cracked ribs had made it clear enough that he wasn't wanted for the position and never would be. Sarutobi had banished his son from the house – forever – but that didn't change the fact that Jiraiya was terrified of criticism should he ever put in his name for election. The damage had been done.

In spite of the fact that Sarutobi had never planned to allow someone as hotheaded as Asuma ascend to the position of Hokage. The irony of the fight had been that Asuma had never been in the running in the first place. Jiraiya, on the other hand, would have made a wonderful candidate. Now, between Asuma's bullying and his teammates' out of hand teasing, Jiraiya would probably never have the confidence to overcome his naysayers and take on responsibility.

Sarutobi hoped that by giving Jiraiya the responsibility of taking care of his nephew, he might tip the scales back in the right balance. In theory, a thirty-two year old with an excellent record as a team leader should be capable of taking care of an eight year old chuunin. It was in the details that Jiraiya might get stuck. But, even if he did, Sarutobi would be there to give advice and lend a hand.

He stroked his adopted son's back. "Let's go tell Hatake Kakashi together. We'll break the news to him gently."

"You will?" Jiraiya was terrified of facing Kakashi's wild-eyed grief and hatred by himself.

"Perhaps he will be glad to find he will not be alone," Sarutobi suggested.

Jiraiya took a deep breath and let it out. "I hope so." He wished his doubts wouldn't go straight into his stomach and make his legs weak. This was no life and death struggle. He was just going to see his little nephew.

Kakashi sat in the white padded room, not disguising his hostility. He sat in meditative position, but there was nothing about the flaming chakra around his body that suggested calm. He resented that he'd been overpowered, disarmed, and sent into monitored isolation. He would have shown them all up by summoning a wind blade and chopping off his own head, but he didn't know how to make one. His father hadn't shown him the wind blade technique yet. He felt certain his captors knew this.

Tears stung his eyes, and he swallowed. They're laughing at me. He knew it. They had to be. His father, the great Hatake Sakumo, the legendary White Fang, committed suicide like a coward. Leaving Kakashi to carry the burden. Well, he refused. He wouldn't be forced to live any more than his father had. If his father thought that he was going to stay here and be whipping boy for his mistakes…

Kakashi blinked, and the tears dropped down his cheeks. Father, why? Sakumo had always preached selflessness, always talked of sacrifice. But he couldn't be bothered to live for his only son? The hypocrisy made Kakashi's head hurt. He'd believed all the things his father told him. He'd believed he knew what was right. Now he didn't know anything and the man who could have explained it to him was dead.

He briefly wished for Minato, but dismissed the idea as weak. His teacher was too mild-mannered to know what to say in these situations. He'd seen Minato flounder before when delivering bad news, and that had been impersonal bad news. Face it. Everyone around you is weak.

Kakashi hid his face in his hands, succumbing to the need to hide, though he knew he was being watched.

His dignity was gone, and he was just eight years old.

The door opened.

Kakashi looked up. He stared at the figures in the doorway incredulously. His Hokage and Jiraiya side by side.

They came in.

The Hokage shut the door behind them. His face was gently, compassionately sad. "We will hold a funeral service."

"Why bother?" Kakashi stared at the floor. "No one will come."

"I will come," Sandaime said. He squeezed Jiraiya's shoulders. "And so will your uncle."

"Why bother?" Kakashi asked again. His voice was thick, revealing that he'd cried. "It won't bring him back. He's gone."

"But we're not," Jiraiya said.

Kakashi glanced up at him. "What's your point?"

Jiraiya sighed. "Kakashi-kun…come live with me. Please."

Kakashi looked away, scowling at the white padded wall. "You don't want me."

Jiraiya looked at Kakashi with wide eyes, startled. "Huh?" He faltered. "Who says so?"

Kakashi clenched his jaw. "No one has to. It's all over. I'm an outcast. No one wants me. I'll only drag you down."

"That is not how I feel about you!" Jiraiya crossed the room, dropped to his knees, and wrapped his arms around Kakashi in a hug, even though Kakashi wouldn't turn around and face him. He tucked Kakashi's head under his chin, hugging his nephew from behind. "I am not going to abandon you."

Kakashi buckled, only being held up by Jiraiya's arms. "Why not?"

Jiraiya was speechless.

"Everyone else does." As soon as that popped to the surface, Kakashi cried helplessly.

Jiraiya gathered him up and shielded Kakashi against him, sheltering Kakashi's face against his chest. "I'm sorry."

Kakashi wailed and sobbed, grabbing one fistful of Jiraiya's kimono and clinging on.

"Would you like to go with Jiraiya and come home?" Sandaime asked softly.

Kakashi could barely speak through his tears. "Y-Yes…"

Jiraiya picked him up and stood in one motion, cradling Kakashi against him.

Kakashi wound his arms around Jiraiya's neck.

"Jiraiya has a nice home," Sandaime said. "You will be at home there."

"Just take me away from here." Kakashi's voice broke. "I can't stand to be here."

Jiraiya exited the room with Sandaime leading the way, carrying Kakashi. His chest hurt. "I'm sorry. I didn't know what else to do. I didn't want you…" …joining him. "…hurting yourself."

Kakashi sobbed. "Why do you care?"

"You're my nephew," Jiraiya said, bewildered. He didn't know any other easy answer. "I love you."

They checked Kakashi out of the hospital, and Sarutobi walked Jiraiya over to his small, two bedroom house.

Kakashi hid his face against Jiraiya the whole time and made no attempt to walk on his own. For once, he didn't care about his pride or his reputation. They were both ripped to shreds anyway. His father the traitor had become his father the dead traitor. The suicide was the worst shame of all. His father had announced to the world nothing could pay for his crimes. The things his father had done would follow him around forever.

Absurdly, the thing that popped into his head while Jiraiya was carrying him across the village was, I'll never have any friends. Rin and Obito told him he was obnoxious as it was. Now they probably would never speak to him again. Minato probably didn't want to be his sensei anymore. No one wanted to see him ever again.

This was a counterpoint to the sensation of being carried in warm, strong arms. His father had stopped carrying him when he graduated from the academy, saying shinobi had to stand on their own two feet. His father had convincingly argued that Kakashi would be embarrassed if he, a genin, still had his father pick him up and carry him.

Kakashi clung, tightening his arms around Jiraiya's neck. Don't put me down. He was hungry for the affection and protection due to children. He knew he'd never deserve the special deference again when he graduated the academy, but he never imagined it would be so hard. In the first six months, to have no one except a med nin look his way or care when he became injured almost shook him to pieces. When he'd attempted to tell his father about his pain, his father had said irritably, 'You're a shinobi,' and walked out of the room.

If he'd known being a shinobi was about being alone, he never would have gone to school. He hated being alone. And he especially hated the coldness he was supposed to display. He hated the churned up mud of battlefields, he hated the blood, he hated the pain and the exhaustion and the acrid smell of discharged chakra when someone used the last of their reserves. But he hated the coldness and aloneness the most. Not everyone seemed to feel the same way his father did, either, which frustrated him. Some genin seemed much 'softer' than others. And Minato was a sensei and he wasn't hard or cold. Kakashi felt he slaved away at a mask of indifference for nothing, except that he flinched away from his father's sharp words if he ever dropped the mask or made a mistake.

Kakashi was unused to the care he saw on Jiraiya's face when he cried. When his father saw him crying, he was liable to be spanked over it, and not gently.

Jiraiya set him down on the sofa. It was a dark green, made out of soft fake leather. Kakashi looked up at Jiraiya uncertainly.

"You have anything to eat?" Jiraiya asked.

"No…"

"What about some ramen? Would you like that?"

Kakashi glanced across the room at the dining table and the part of the kitchen he could see from the living room. It was all one room, with a partition to one side of the door to make the kitchen not immediately noticeable. "Ramen?"

Jiraiya gave him a weak grin. "I got some flavors to choose from. Pick one: beef, chicken, shrimp."

"Shrimp." Kakashi cleared his throat. "Please."

Jiraiya hesitantly laid his hand on Kakashi's head. "I'll be right back."

Kakashi looked at Jiraiya in dazed shock at the foreign gesture. "Hai."

Jiraiya went off into the kitchen, leaving Kakashi on the soft couch, wondering what living in Jiraiya's house was going to be like. He glanced across the room at the boxy object against the wall. Jiraiya had a TV… He'd never had one in his house, only a radio. He wondered what watching TV was like.

Jiraiya came back a few minutes later with a steaming bowl of instant ramen and a pair of chopsticks. After handing it off, Jiraiya sat next to him.

Kakashi looked down at the bowl of ramen in awe. It was the fancy kind. Little shrimps, bits of cabbage, and tiny diced onions floated around the pile of noodles sitting in the broth. The steam smelled wonderful.

Jiraiya smiled at him.

Kakashi hesitantly picked up his chopsticks and ate. He ate slowly, not just because he hadn't eaten anything in a while and didn't want to choke. He was also savoring.

Jiraiya laid a hand on his back, and that was pleasant, too. Jiraiya's warm, reassuring hand rested between his shoulder blades.

Kakashi got down to the stage of drinking broth without a single word in the silence. As soon as he was finished, he felt warm and sleepy, broth sloshing around in his stomach. His fingertips tingled. He glanced at Jiraiya, his vision hazy. He squinted. "Did you drug me?"

Jiraiya's startled expression was answer enough. "Huh? Why would I do that?"

"Never mind," Kakashi mumbled.

Jiraiya gently took the empty bowl and used chopsticks from him.

By the time Jiraiya came back from depositing them in the kitchen, Kakashi was asleep on the couch.

Jiraiya picked him up and carried Kakashi into his bedroom. He laid Kakashi down on the bed and pulled the covers up around his nephew. Kakashi curled up. Jiraiya sat down on the side of the bed. "Hey…I'm here. It's okay." He didn't know whether Kakashi could hear him, but he was comforted by the sound of his own voice.